The Burning Maze by Rick Riordan hit store shelves on May 1, and now he’s talking to us about Apollo’s journey, the new villain, and his imprint Rick Riordan Presents.

The latest chapter in the Trials of Apollo series, The Burning Maze, is now available wherever books are sold! It follows the former god Apollo on his latest adventure, where he must rescue the next Oracle and discover the identity of the final evil Roman emperor.

Though there are still two more books left in the series, this one certainly doesn’t feel like a middle-of-the-pack installment. Read our review and then head over to Rick’s blog to check out some hilarious instructional videos from Coach Hedge on how to beat the burning maze.

Once you’ve done that, check out our interview with Percy Jackson author Rick Riordan to find out what challenged him most about Burning Maze, what Apollo has left to learn, and what’s coming next.

Book 3 tends to be a turning point for your series. How much pressure did you feel to make sure this installment packed a big enough punch?

I wouldn’t say I felt any external pressure, but in retrospect I realized that this is simply how I write when I’m doing one of these five-book series. By book three, things get very serious, and I think that’s logical. We are literally in the midst of the action now. It needs to be clear that we are playing for real, heavy stakes.

What challenge did you encounter while writing this book that you were surprised by or weren’t totally prepared for?

I’m always surprised and challenged by the books, mostly because I am always trying new points of view to keep things fresh for myself. Rediscovering Grover as a character was a lot of fun, but took some work. Meg’s background story, and definitely filling in the blanks about what had been happening with Piper and Jason since The Blood of Olympus — all challenges, all fun!

What does ‘The Burning Maze’ bring to the table that is different from the last two installments in the Trials of Apollo series?

The third emperor is . . . well, maybe not a shock, but definitely a whole new dimension of evil. He warns us that this isn’t some game where everyone is going to go home fine at the end. And he’s right. The drama is real, and it hits Apollo right in the face, forcing him to finally think about people other than himself in a meaningful way.

Apollo has had a beautiful arc so far, and ‘The Burning Maze’ definitely solidifies his understanding of and empathy for humans. Considering there are two more books, however, it stands to reason he still has some lessons to learn. What’s next for the former god before he’s truly learned to be a better version of himself?

Well, that’s the question, isn’t it? In Books 4 and 5, he obviously has three emperors to face who are still very much alive, very evil, and still intent on destroying him. The question will be: What are Apollo’s priorities? What will he do to get back his immortality, and will he hold on to what he’s learned as a human? He has come a long way, but he still has quite a lot of heartache and challenge ahead of him.

With so many characters and a lot of hope from fans that they’ll see their favorite heroes show up somewhere in this series, how do you choose which cameos to focus on and which demigods and mythical creatures get to be a part of the action?

It’s really geographical. The first book was New York, so you see all our old friends from Camp Half-Blood. Book 2 is Indianapolis, which is new territory, but you see our favorite roaming demigods and friends, the Hunters of Artemis. Book 3: Southern California, which is Jason and Piper, and Grover, who is there to help with the nature problems caused by drought and wildfires. Book 4 will have us heading back to the Bay Area, which is of course Camp Jupiter!

Is it easy for you to revisit characters from prior series, or is it a challenge to write them considering we’re now seeing them through Apollo’s eyes instead of Percy’s?

That’s what I love best about writing these different series, coming at the same characters from slightly different angles. It’s what keeps me writing. It’s a nice mental challenge for me to say: “Okay, we know how Percy sees Annabeth, but how would Apollo see her? Or we know Annabeth sees Percy this way, how would Piper see him?”

What can you tease us about what’s to come in ‘The Tyrant’s Tomb’?

Readers will have a pretty good idea where we are going by the end of Book 3, but basically we are heading to Camp Jupiter. We will get to see our old friends there — Hazel, Frank, Reyna, and the rest, and we will see how Meg and Apollo deal with spending time with the Twelfth Legion! Oh, and also, there will be life-and-death decisions to be made, as usual.

You’ve been writing within the Percy Jackson universe for nearly 13 years now. How has your relationship with these characters, their stories, and your fan base changed over time?

The world has grown so much, and I’ve had so much fun with it. As I said, I could have stopped at five books, or continued to write Percy POV forever. That would’ve maybe been the obvious commercial thing to do, but it would not have interested me. I wanted to branch out and explore new demigods, new narrators, new storylines. I’m very happy with my decisions to date in the sense that it has continuously challenged me and kept the story fresh and evolving. I can only say that I hope the readers agree.

I’d be remiss not to ask you if you’ve got any new projects on the horizon we may or may not have heard of yet!

Right now all my attention is on completing the Trials of Apollo and of course helping out with Rick Riordan Presents, my new imprint at Disney. I’m sure I will continue writing my own novels in one form or another after Apollo, but I’m not sure what those projects will be yet.

The first Rick Riordan Presents title, ‘Aru Shah and the End of Time,’ was a major success, and there’s plenty of anticipation about the upcoming titles under your imprint. What has the experience been like for you so far, and what are you looking forward to next?

Oh, it has been a phenomenal experience for me, and we’ve had so much more success than I even hoped — and I had high hopes! Aru Shah knocked it out of the ballpark, and I’m happy to say the other titles coming down the pipeline are every bit as strong. Jennifer Cervantes’ Storm Runner comes out in September. The Maya mythology elements are done so well, and Zane Obispo is a fabulous character. I know readers will eat it up. Then later in the fall there’s Dragon Pearl from Yoon Ha Lee, which is like Star Wars combined with Korean mythology. It’s a wonderful wild ride and I anticipate a huge success. And that’s just year one of the imprint! Coming in 2019 is Carlos Hernandez’ Cuban-magic-infused Sal and Gabi Break the Universe, which is so original and wild I can’t even describe it without spoiling some of the fun, but imagine Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy set in middle school with Cuban folklore elements. Then Rebecca Roanhorse takes us on a fabulous modern-day journey in Navajo mythology in Race to the Sun, and Kwame Mbalia brings us an epic adventure through African-American and West African mythology in Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky. Oh my gods. This is really more awesomeness than one imprint should be allowed to publish. I love helping to guide these books to publication and making sure they get the widest possible audience. I also love that I am encouraging others to write their own stories and I don’t have to write them! I just have the pleasure of reading fabulous narratives and being their cheerleader.

Have you had a chance to read ‘The Burning Maze’ yet?

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